Because I studied Spanish as a minor in college, I felt very comfortable with the language before I came to Chile. I had experience speaking Spanish through my travels to Spain and was excited for the opportunity to further expand on my vocabulary and my fluency. Unfortunately, I was vastly unprepared for how difficult it would be to become accustomed to the Chilean accent, pronunciation, and slang.
There are many aspects of Chilean Spanish that are inherent to the country and different from the rest of Latin America. To begin with, the people do not pronounce many of the letters in the alphabet, most importantly the letter “s”. For example, when saying the phrase “mas o menos” (more or less), they will say “ma o meno”. For a foreigner, this makes the language very difficult to understand because the words seem to run together. Another pronunciation characteristic is with the “tu” or “you” grammar tense in Spanish. In normal Spanish, if one was to say “you talk to me” it would be written as “me hablas”. However, in Chile, this phrase would change to “me hablai”. These are just two of the many pronunciation changes that occur in Chile and cause foreigners to have difficulty adjusting to the language.
Another amazing characteristic of Chile is the extraordinary amount of slang that the people in the country use. In Chile, they call these words “modismos”, and they are present in everyday conversation, whether one is talking with friends or colleagues in the business world. Some of the most common words that they use are “bacán” (awesome), cachai (do you understand), and flaite (sketchy or not cool). However, the one that is used the most is “weon”, or dude. Throughout my time working at the bank, I continually hear my coworkers address each other as “weon”. Unfortunately, you have to be really careful with the person you say this to, due to the fact that saying it to someone you don’t know can be very offensive. This is something that I learned the hard way!
Like everything in life, the only way to learn is to practice! Besides using Spanish at work, I also like to practice my Spanish by going out to lunch with colleagues and visiting bars with my friends. Each day for lunch I will go to a different restaurant that has a classic “menu del dia”. The restaurant gives you a choice of a soup or a salad for an appetizer, one of three meals for the main course, and dessert with coffee. This all costs about 3,000 Chilean pesos, or 6 U.S. dollars, so it is really cheap! The atmosphere is very relaxed for lunch in my office, so usually, my coworkers and I can spend up to two hours at lunch. This is a great way for me to practice my Spanish outside of the bank and to also get to know my coworkers better. During the night, I will usually meet up with a group of my friends to go have a drink at one of the local bars around my neighborhood. My favorite bar is this place called Berries. The atmosphere is amazing; it is like a scene out of the movie Midnight in Paris. The entire bar is decorated in paintings and sculptures from the early 1900’s and it is a very trendy place to go. With soft jazz music and a relaxed aura, it is a good bar to be able to hear your friends and discuss your week over a nice bottle of wine.
Overall, I am continuing to learn Spanish and I definitely feel that my use of the language has improved. However, I still need to keep practicing until one day I will finally be able to say that I am a fluent Spanish speaker.